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Commentary Track: Gillen & White On Star Wars: Christmas in the Stars

by  in Comic News, Movie News Comment
Commentary Track: Gillen & White On Star Wars: Christmas in the Stars

Although Star Wars is a space opera set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, the franchise’s characters sure have had a lot of run-ins with the firmly Earthbound holiday of Christmas. From the annual Lucasfilm Christmas cards, usually illustrated by Ralph McQuarrie and featuring C-3PO and R2-D2 engaging in holiday hijinks, to official Hallmark ornaments to the surprising amount of Yoda-in-Santa-hat merchandise, one could almost consider Luke Skywalker & Co. as icons of the season, along with Rudolph and Frosty the Snowman.

With the always-popular franchise now even more in the public consciousness, thanks to the Star Wars: The Force Awakens teaser and Marvel’s upcoming Star Wars comics, we wanted to shine a light on a forgotten Star Wars Christmas gem.

You might think the most outrageous — and possibly egregious — seasonal Star Wars artifact is the Star Wars Holiday Special, which infamously aired in 1978 on CBS. That special featured 10 solid minutes of subtitle-free Wookiee dialogue, Bea Arthur as a cantina bartender, an elderly Wookiee lusting after Diahann Carroll, the first appearance of Boba Fett, and a “3D music video” from Jefferson Starship. Believe it or not, that’s not the crazy piece of pop culture we’re talking about. No, we’re going to break down, track by track, the often-overlooked Star Wars Christmas album. Released in 1980 by RSO Records, the logic-defying Christmas in the Stars: Star Wars Christmas Album features Anthony Daniels as C-3PO, alongside Jon Bon Jovi and a bunch of toy-making droids.

To celebrate Star Wars and the holiday season, we’ve recruited Star Wars: Darth Vader writer/pop music aficionado Kieron Gillen and Star Wars editor/ukulele enthusiast Jordan D. White to try to make sense of this gloriously weird bit of franchise history.

1. Christmas in the Stars

Jordan D. White: So, this is a proper concept album and this song sets the stage. The idea here is that C-3PO, R2-D2 and Chewbacca are celebrating Christmas … by spending some quality time with some toy-making droids? That doesn’t actually make a lot of sense, but considering that most people in the Star Wars universe treat all droids as things rather than people, why wouldn’t Artoo and Threepio want to spend the holidays with other droids rather than fleshies? They are robots who work for S. Claus — presumably back before he got elves, since this was a long time ago. One of the droids is identified as R5-D4, so apparently he got a new motivator and got bought by Santa. It’s Chewbacca that is the real oddity here … and then, in this song, when toy-making droid R5-D4 stands under the mistletoe, Chewy kisses him. Let me restate that — Chewbacca kisses a droid. And a droid with no lips or face, no less. Setting aside the fact that he is holiday-cheating on his wife Malla … this might give a little too much hope to any Chewy/Threepio shippers out there.

Kieron Gillen: Immediately I’m wrestling with the mythic and theological implications of all this. Is Santa a Jedi? Is Santa a Sith? It’s worth noticing he’s referenced as “S. Klaus” and as it’s only verbalized, I can assume that it’s S. Claws — which sounds like a Sith to me. He watches you at all times, etc. Honestly, I can’t be surprised.

Er … the song? I will give it credit for “Everyone shall have a cookie — I brought extra for the Wookiee,” which has made me laugh every time I listened to it. Also, bells are prominently featured in it, which means it’s totally a Christmas song.

2. Bells, Bells, Bells

White: So, any continuity nerds like myself immediately heard about this album and scoffed — how could they know about Christmas in a galaxy quite some distance away a great deal of time in the past? Christmas hasn’t been around that long. In this song, they decide to hang a lantern on that idea in a super dumb way. They don’t address the “How Do They Know It’s Christmastime At All” question, but instead they have C-3PO make all sorts of other weird references to our world/time, and R2-D2 doesn’t get them. The list of things R2-D2 does not know about includes Einstein, H. G. Wells, verses, cows … and the concept the entire song is built around. Artoo does not know what bells are. Apparently they don’t have bells in the Star Wars universe. Who knew? And then, we get the awkwardly racist line where Threepio says bells are sometimes Japanese, Artoo bleeps and Threepio responds, “You know what Japanese are?” Ouch.

Gillen: There is also Bell’s Whiskey, which you suspect that everyone involved in this album was drinking heavily throughout, especially C-3P0. Regarding his boundless ignorance, I end up assuming that R2-D2 is just doing what he’s always doing, and shamelessly and endlessly trolling C-3P0.

Hmm… at least the album does understand that Christmas songs equal bells. It’s not exactly Low’s “Just Like Christmas,” but at least they’re aware of what genre they’re working in, if not the genre that Star Wars is in.

3. The Odds Against Christmas

White: The easy-joke response is that, upon hearing this song one can only say “Never sing me the odds.” But I am much more concerned with the math and logic behind this one. First, Threepio is saying how we’re lucky nothing important ever happened on Dec. 25 or else we would be celebrating that thing instead of Christmas. I don’t think I buy that, but let’s say he’s right. The chorus then comes in and says, “The odds against Christmas being Christmas are 365 to 1,” and that just does not add up. That is a whole other argument. That’s saying that they were going to put Christmas on some day, and they could have picked any day, so… it was a 1 in 365 chance that it be on Dec. 25. Threepio later say the odds of adding an extra month to the year are 92,000,000 to 3, and I want to see his work on that. Is he calculating us just shortening the existing months to add a 13th, or are we slowing down the Earth’s movement around the sun to extend the year? These details matter, man. Be specific.

Gillen: Never sing me the odds. If Jordan didn’t make the joke, I totally can.

Er … do we have to go into a discussion about the Christian-colonizing Winter Solstice celebrations, so it’s not random at all but actually just a result of entirely observable interacting elements in the historical record? That seems a little tedious and pedantic thing to spend time on in what I suspect is meant to be a seasonal joke article.

The odds of me ever listening to this song again is very low.

4. What Can You Get A Wookiee for Christmas (When He Already Owns A Comb)

White: So it turns out the toy-making droids are programmed to be bigots. Honestly, I thought we were past this sort of racist humor. Ha -a, all a Wookiee needs in life is a comb, since all he is is his hairy appearance. Right, it’s completely outside the realm of their imagining that a Wookiee could need a tie clip — Wookiees can’t be businessmen, they’re just hairy! Honestly. Sounds like you do need to give them some love and understanding, but we’ve got a ways to go before you get there. Not to mention practical gifts like a scarf and earmuffs for Luke and Han, who had just relocated to Hoth at the time … and perfume for Leia. Sounds like their acceptance subroutines need an upgrade.

Gillen: If you buy me a comb, it’s just sarcastic and I’ll have to kill you.

This is jaunty, which makes me suspect that the droids are going to get annihilated by Sith Lord S. Claus when he notices his staff are knocking off and singing. Wait! Jordan hasn’t done the I felt your presents joke, which means I can. Let’s try:

How did Chewbacca know what he got for Christmas? Because he gets given the same things every year — and it’s always a comb due to everyone’s inability to understand him on a deeper level. He would really like to get a razor so he can go for one of those fashionable buzz-side-cuts, but no — just another bloody comb.

No, it seems I can’t

5. R2-D2, We Wish You A Merry Christmas

White: Now, we’re back with Artoo and Threepio, as Threepio gives Artoo his Christmas present — a recording of a bunch of children singing Merry Christmas to him. The title of this song pretty perfectly represents the amount of thought and creativity that went into this whole album. Take a Christmas phrase and then just slap the name of a Star Wars thing on the front. Apparently, this is Jon Bon Jovi’s recording debut. Artoo tries to stop listening halfway through, but Threepio makes him finish. Seems the little message Artoo was trying to send about his present didn’t get to Threepio.

Gillen: In the period, this seems like Star Wars counter-punching to British Pop Phenomena like “There’s No One Quite Like Grandma” with a children’s choir doing some hailing, probably in desperate hope they’ll get a better present. They’ve made a mistake with R2-D2, who’s more likely to electrocute them then bleep cutely.

6. Sleigh Ride

White: I am actually a C-3PO fan. He’s my favorite character in the Star Wars saga. Go ahead, make fun of me … OK, thanks, now I will continue. As I was saying, I am a C-3PO fan … and as a C-3PO fan … this album is killing me. I like Threepio more than probably anyone reading this (unless you are reading this, Mr. Daniels — hello!) but, man! This album seriously puts that to the test. Him speak-singing his way through this album is rough. In this song, we can add “singing” to the list of things R2-D2 does not understand. So here we have the Christmas classic “Sleigh Ride” with its lyrics rewritten to teach Artoo to sing. The fact that “Sleigh Ride” is a great, peppy song makes this still fun enough to listen to and makes it one of my top tracks on the album. It also made me appreciate more fully the speak-singing of Creepio in the Auralnauts track “You and Me and Fartoo.”

Gillen: Yeah, this is the best song on the album so far, for a handful of simple reasons:

1. It’s a version of a genuine classic Christmas song, and that means you really can’t go wrong, no matter how hard you try — and they really are trying very hard.

2. A robot trying to explain the pleasures of music sounds like the sort of story that Jamie [McKelvie] and I would spin off into a whole Phonogram miniseries.

3. The version is based around foot-stomps of horses as percussion.

4. Plus sleigh bells.

5. The bit where R2-D2 starts going full on singing sounds like a strange precursor of Daft Punk’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.”

7. Merry, Merry Christmas

White: This is actually my favorite track on the album. Look … it’s super-doofy, but because it mostly does not focus on terrible, unfunny Star Wars stuff and instead just tries to be a cute Christmas song … it’s not so bad. It’s the Wookiee parts that I am not so fond of. Sing it in a normal, non-droid voice, cut the racist Wookiee remarks and weird Wookiee molester moments… and I can actually imagine a version of this song that is not bad. I am going to try to perform a cover of it on my ukulele. We’ll see if I can work that out.

Gillen: I’m sorry. I’ve listened to the whole thing imagining what Jordan’s version is going to be like. I’m going to say “better” because I like receiving work from Jordan.

Hmm. They talk about a costume that makes you disappear when you put it on. That sounds like the sort of technological artifact I should integrate into Star Wars: Darth Vader. Are these stealth suits canon, Jordan? Jordan?

Editor’s note: Here’s Jordan’s cover.

8. A Christmas Sighting (‘Twas the Night Before Christmas)

White: This is just what you expect — it’s a version of the classic poem, but all Star Wars-ified! Well, sort of. I mean … it’s got a little tiny hint of something that could be considered Star Wars. You know, like the rest of the album. Apparently S. Claus demands that the droids all leave before he comes to get the toys they made, so they have never seen him. I guess he considers droids beneath him, like all other Star Wars humans. But as far as I am concerned, this song completely, completely blew it. The last line is the traditional one, when it so clearly should have been changed to “And I heard him declare as he faded from view, ‘Merry Christmas to all — and may the Force be with you!'”

Gillen: I’m going to ignore all this evidence and firmly stick to my Sith theory about S. Claws. He’s going to have three lightsabers built into each hand, like a Star Wars-ian Wolverine.

9. The Meaning of Christmas

White: Twist! Turns out the S. Claus the droids work for is actually Santa Claus’ son. He tells the droids that making presents for others and getting nothing in return is his gift to them. The happiness they bring to others is their gift. Yeah, sure. Oppressor. He then sings a song about the meaning of Christmas that … tries way too hard. It’s uber-sappy while not actually sounding good enough to earn its sappiness. It’s hard to say if this is the worst track, or if it just feels like it because it’s by far the longest track. It’s so sappy that I … don’t really have anything to say about it. If you’re ever at a huge orchestral concert recreating this album in front of an enormous live audience, I would say slip out at the start of this track to beat the rush to the parking garage.

Gillen: You know, the whole Sith thing could work with this S. Claws being the son. The real deal could turn up and do an “I am your Father Christmas” beat.

Eight minutes? It’s gone prog. This is Star Wars, not 2001. I clearly frown. Hmm. Yeah, it’s a big cheesy music-theater show thing. I’m also frowning at the message, which is basically us giving stuff, as this is making me feel doubly anxious about not having actually bought any presents yet. Great. Thanks, album. Now I’m feeling like I’m a worse human being than usual.

I have actually bought two presents, by the way: a copy of Fraction and Zdarsky’s Just the Tips and a copy of the board game Mage Knight for my brother. Man, I hope he doesn’t read this. Michael! Stop it! Back away now! Oh, no, it’s too late.

Final Thoughts

White: It’s a really hard call to say which is better, this album or the Star Wars Holiday Special. Every time I think one sinks below the other in quality, they pull out the big guns like Wookiees watching sexy holograms or putting on stealth suits and tickling droids. I am not sure what it is about the holiday season that brings out the perv in Wookiees. Anyway, I can’t say I recommend this album, for sure … but if you’re the type who sometimes enjoys abusing your ears with things you cannot unhear (which I am — hello, Jim Steinman “Batman” demos!) then this is worth adding to your sonic memory.

Gillen: I’m pleased that due to being attributed to “Various Artists,” it doesn’t actually appear in my last.fm stats, so no one will ever know that I’ve listened to it — except I’ve just written an article about it and, oh, I didn’t think this through at all.

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